Dr. Susan Karpicke / Director of Admissions and Counselor / Sycamore School
Intelligence tests can provide important information about intellectual potential that is often used when identifying gifted children. Here are some ideas to help make the IQ testing experience a positive one for your child.
Before the test
Find an examiner with experience testing gifted children. Gifted kids can be tricky to test if they are not risk-takers or tend to be perfectionistic. Look for an examiner who has evaluated gifted children, is good at building rapport with kids, and who has a warm, genuine demeanor.
If your child is nervous about the testing contact the examiner to see if you can arrange for your child to meet the examiner and see the facility before the testing. It often comforts gifted kids to know what to expect before they enter into a new situation.
Don’t tell your child that he/she is going to play “games” with someone. Although the testing activities are fun for most kids, you don’t want your child to expect to play his or her favorite game. If you need help explaining the testing to your child, contact your examiner for ideas on how to present the topic accurately and realistically.
Day of the test
Do not take a sick child to be tested. You will be wasting your time and money. Reschedule for a time when your child is healthy.
Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep the night before the testing. A well-rested, relaxed child is likely to perform better and enjoy the testing experience more than a child who is tired and irritable
Make sure your child eats an appropriate meal before the testing. Again, you want your child to feel his or her best when in the testing situation.
Although it is interesting to watch a child be tested most kids do best if their parents are not in the room. Follow the examiner’s advice about where you should wait while your child is tested.
Anxiety can be contagious. If you are anxious about the testing your child will notice. Try to contain your own anxiety. If necessary, consider having another trusted adult take your child to the evaluation.
After the test
If you have questions, or simply don’t understand the results, call the examiner directly for an explanation.
Sometimes young children don’t test accurately because they are young children. They can be wiggly, inattentive, moody, sleepy, or hungry. All of these factors can affect results.
Retest if necessary. Sometimes we simply have inflated ideas of what our kids are capable of. But there are also times when you truly believe the results you are seeing really do not reflect your child. If that is the case, discuss your thoughts with the examiner. Your child can be re-tested with the same test after a waiting period (to eliminate any practice effect) or may be tested again sooner if a different IQ test is used.
Put the results in perspective. An IQ test, like any other test, simply measures your child’s performance during a particular moment in time. If you have a great examiner, the proper testing environment, and a cooperative kid, you may get a meaningful score. Ideally the results will help you understand your child’s intellectual potential, and assist you in making appropriate educational choices.
Sycamore School / Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence in Gifted Education
By Glenna Lykens / Head of Lower School / Sycamore School
Much of the conversation revolving around education in our nation today focuses on standards. Discussion arises about what those standards should be and if those standards should be content or process. Defining those categories can also cause discussion. I define content standards as those that describe what students should know and be able to do. Process standards describe skills that help students enhance the process of learning. At Sycamore we focus on both, but I think teachers help their students most when they teach them the thinking skills and processes needed to be successful long after they leave our school. Today I’d like to talk about one of those process skills.
Gifted students often learn new concepts quickly, enjoy solving problems, and think about things more intensely and deeply. Because of these traits gifted students benefit from learning and developing critical thinking skills. One definition of critical thinking is the ability to use logic and reasoning to solve problems. Though the definition sounds simple, teachers need to use direct instruction of those skills and find ways to integrate critical thinking into all areas of the curriculum.
Strong critical thinking skills can help students identify and solve problems, interpret and analyze information, ask relevant questions, compare and contrast, make connections, assess and revise, draw conclusions, explain and defend their thinking, and evaluate their thinking when new information is presented. Thinking critically can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice.
Teachers can integrate critical thinking into lessons of all disciplines by teaching in-depth questioning and evaluation of information and the sources of the information. They need to act as facilitators to encourage deeper discussions and to teach that there is not always one right answer.
At Sycamore, here are a few ways educators teach and encourage critical thinking:
- They ask open-ended questions. These do not have one right answer. Teachers frame their units around essential questions to get students thinking right away. Examples are: “What do good readers do?” “What makes a great story?” “Is it important for scientists to record and share their data?” “What can we learn from the past?”
- They teach students to categorize and classify. This teaches students to identify and sort, and to decide upon the set of rules to guide them in that process.
- They have students work in groups. This helps students learn to listen and evaluate what others say, to explain and defend their thinking, and to realize that there can be multiple answers to problems or multiple paths to solving a problem.
- They teach students to make decisions. Students learn to consider options, weigh pros and cons, evaluate choices, and then reflect and assess their decision later.
- They teach students to look for patterns. This can be done through observation, through making connections, or through looking for commonalities.
Parents can help their children develop critical thinking skills at home. It’s important for parents to engage their children in discussions. Encourage them to ask questions, brainstorm ideas, explain and clarify their thoughts, and listen to others’ ideas. Ask children higher-level questions. What would happen if…? Why is…important? What is the difference between…and…? Which is better, and why? Do you agree or disagree, and why?
Play is a great way to develop critical thinking skills. Imaginary play is one way to practice thinking, creating, solving problems, and assessing. There are great games that promote critical thinking and problem solving. Some of my favorites are Mastermind, checkers, chess, Connect Four, Qwirkle, and Set. A great website that focuses on thinking games and activities is Mindware.
Reading and writing are both areas that parents can encourage and participate in to help children stretch in their thinking skills. Read together with your children, discuss the book (remember to focus on the higher-level questions), and encourage your children to journal about the books they read.
Parents should let children try to solve their own problems. Provide enough information to guide them, but ask them to consider ways to solve their problems. Support them and help them if they need to research to find answers. Encourage independence and resilience when they encounter roadblocks instead of solving their problems for them. You will help them in the short run and the long run by doing some of these suggestions!
#gifted #GiftedEd #thinking #sycamoreschool
By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School
“All they do is play all day. When are they going to learn something?”
I can answer that question.
Play is children’s work. Although adults also need time to play, children learn the skills they will need to navigate the world as adults through play. Some of those valuable skills are negotiation, cooperation, organization, pre-planning, self-regulation, critical thinking, creativity, math and reading skills, and fine motor skills for handwriting, creating projects, designing a building, or bringing a new invention into being.
Learning centers are an integral part of all early childhood classrooms. Teachers create these areas in their classrooms in order to provide materials that reflect the educational needs of their students. When you walk into a classroom and observe children working in these centers, it will look as if they are playing. They are actually participating in a well- organized and thoughtfully planned lesson that the teacher has created for her particular group of students. This center time has involved the selection of differentiated materials, continuous assessment of the students, and much pre-planning on the part of the teacher.
I will list center areas that you will see in our classrooms and indicate the materials that you will find there, and explain why these centers and materials are important for rigorous and developmentally appropriate instruction.
• Materials: books that are both fiction and non-fiction. Picture books, beginning reading books and books with a variety of reading levels that will meet the skill level of early readers. These materials will change to reflect student interests and units of study.
• Why is this center available? Children learn to enjoy quiet reading time. They are able to explore a variety of subject areas. Children become aware of print and its role in providing pleasure and information.
• Materials: sand and water are most prominent. There will also be a variety of other materials such as dirt, snow, dried corn, rice, and shredded paper of various textures. This is a partial list of materials.
• Why is this center available? The most obvious reason is to provide young children with the experience of exploring different textures and other properties of materials. Depending upon what is utilized, this center is also used for measuring, creating landforms, animal habitats, roads, farms, and construction sites. Children may play separately or work cooperatively on a project that they plan and execute together.
Science or Nature Center
• Materials: microscope, magnifying glass, thermometer, materials from nature that children have selected and brought into class, plants and other items such as fish, hermit crabs, aquatic frogs, or an ant farm. Additional materials will directly reflect the science unit that is being studied.
• Why is the center available? This center encourages children to observe the world around them. They become acquainted with scientific tools and learn to ask questions in order to gain knowledge. They also learn to observe plants and animals through the lens of knowledge that they have gained. They will make predictions and learn from the results.
• Materials: large and small wooden blocks that are a variety of shapes and sizes. Other materials may be added such as animals, trucks, cars, boats, traffic signs, and people.
• Why is this center available? Learning to manipulate shapes in order to construct a map or building helps develop advanced mathematical thinking that goes beyond counting or computation. Children also learn to work cooperatively, respect the ideas of others, and gain skills in self-evaluation and critical thinking.
• Materials: paints, brushes, markers, white boards, crayons, colored pencils,, chalk, paper, glue, and a variety of other items such as feathers, beads, sequins, wallpaper, magazines, glitter and any material that the children find interesting that is conducive to creating art.
• Why is the center available? Children use this center to plan and create art. In the process of doing this, they learn to think creatively as well as manipulate handwriting tools. This involves learning proper grip and use. Children often come to this center to write words and illustrate their writing. This is the beginning of creative writing as well as the documentation of information. Children usually like to work on their own projects so they can take them home or give them as a gift to a friend. Occasionally, children will work together on a project and ask to have it displayed in the classroom.
Mathematics and Language Arts
• Materials: Manipulative materials for language arts will provide practice in letter recognition, letter sounds, rhyming words, initial medial and ending sounds, color words, number words, positional words (up, down, behind, under, above, beside). Manipulative materials for mathematics will provide practice in number recognition, counting on, quantity, measurement, beginning computation, shape recognition, and patterning.
• Why is this center available? High ability children have a wide range of skills in language arts and mathematics. These centers provide children a variety of ways to develop, reinforce, and learn new skills.
• Materials: kitchen materials, puppet show area, costumes, dolls, doll house.
• Why is this center available? Children learn to create a plot and enact the story through cooperation with other children. In order for this to work, children need to practice creative thinking, cooperation, and self-regulation. Learning how to plan a scenario is the beginning of learning how to plan a creative writing project or understand the plot of a story that has been read.
Teachers utilize centers in several ways. Children may be encouraged to explore their particular area of interest or they may be assigned to an area where they need additional skill development. Teachers will also monitor activity in centers and intervene when children need help with cooperation or planning. The next time you visit an early childhood classroom, I hope you will enjoy watching children working in centers and notice the skills and experience that they are gaining.
By Jamie MacDougall / Head of Middle School / Sycamore School
On Thursday, September 24 from 6:30-9:00 p.m. Sycamore will be hosting the annual High School Information with St. Richard’s and Orchard. Our halls and classrooms will be filled with area high schools and boarding schools from as far as Exeter, New Hampshire. The event gives parents and students an opportunity to listen to and interact with admissions representatives, current high school students, and faculty members from multiple vantage points all in one evening.
Finding the right fit for high school can take time. Sycamore graduating classes of 42 typically attend 5-8 different high schools in a given year. Choosing a high school may begin with looking at locations and course catalogs, but the deeper layers of extra-curricular offerings, allowance for course loads, ability to interact with faculty, and access to experiences are key.
The small environment at Sycamore has afforded students exposures to a variety of activities, helping students to begin honing their interests before looking at high school programs. Many of our sixth and seventh graders and their families attend our Sycamore Alumni panel each March to garner the current perspective of a Sycamore transition to various schools. Candid conversations are had about no-cut athletics, which teachers provide the most intriguing courses, and which clubs not to miss (one local high school boasted both a stellar robotics AND cake eating club!).
We encourage all eighth graders to shadow three schools, so as to gain varied perspective (a large school, a small school, public, private, etc.). Conversations regarding navigating these visits will kick-off soon in our advisory program. We continually find these shadow days to be invaluable, as students return with solid gut feelings about the places they visit.
Parents often ask if there is one school that is best for Sycamore alumni and the answer is no. Since students possess an array of passions, interests, goals, geographic locations, backgrounds, etc. the key becomes finding the fit that is right for the individual. We suggest that parents generate a list of viable options (having considered cost, transportation, belief alignment, access to appropriate coursework, etc.) of which they vehemently approve and then let the student have the final say in the decision, as the will be the one spending the most time there.
While we have yet to find a perfect algorithm for making these decisions, we have found that these questions are helpful starting points in parsing out each family’s high school needs:
1. What is the enrollment in grades 9 – 12?
2. What are the admissions criteria?
3. What are the admissions procedures? Please include dates, deadlines, notification of acceptance, etc.
4. Are scholarships available? Are those complete or partial and on what basis are those awarded?
5. Are advanced versions of regular courses available for more capable students? Are students allowed to “test out” of freshman-level courses? What are the criteria or procedures for enrolling in advanced courses? Are Advanced Placement courses offered? Are there other special programs such as International Baccalaureate? Are students able to take classes for college credit while in high school? If so, how many and in connection with what university?
6. What is the average class size in freshman and sophomore level courses such as math, science, and English?
7. Is there a band, orchestra, choir? Are freshmen able to participate in the most advanced music groups?
8. What foreign languages are offered? How many years of study are available? Are there any of these not open to freshmen?
9. What extracurricular offerings are open to freshmen?
10. Is there an Open House scheduled? Are there other times available for visitation?
11. Who should I contact if I have additional questions after this shadowing experience?
12. What percentage of graduates go on to college? Where do they go to college?
13. What are the average SAT scores of recent graduating classes?
14. Have there been National Merit Scholars, Semi-Finalists, or Commended Scholars in recent years? If so, how many?
15. What is the annual tuition? Are there other fees? Do you expect these figures to change significantly in the next four years?
All of these questions are strong starting points for important conversations. The questions regarding access to higher-level coursework, clubs, arts, and athletics tend to be most critical for gifted students. While there is a fine line between inquiring and badgering, don’t always feel as though you have to settle for the first answer you are given.
With a little clarification and recalibrating the ask, you just might find that there are pathways possible that aren’t given immediately, as they are not the easiest. But when the school realizes that it is what might be best for the student, they will often make the essentials happen, and that is the kind of school we are looking for for our children.
By Diane Borgmann / Head of School / Sycamore School
At Sycamore we choose a few books to place on a summer reading list for faculty and staff. Every faculty and staff member chooses at least one title from the list—usually about 4 books—and reads it over the summer. During the week before school starts, we discuss the books and what they might mean for us professionally. This past summer one of the choices was The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD, a clinical psychologist.
I would recommend this book to any adult alive today. Most parents and teachers understand that technology offers us huge benefits, but also many threats and challenges. Steiner-Adair writes, “It is the parental paradox of our time: never has there been so much opportunity for families to plug in and at the same time disconnect.” Steiner-Adair focuses on how technology is impacting our children, their development, and our family relationships. She sets the stage by describing how technology has changed and overtaken much of our lives—and the lives of our children. Children ages 8-18, on average, spend about 7 hours a day on electronic devices. Everyday life is being unbelievably transformed. This poses challenges to raising and educating creative, happy, empathetic children. Steiner-Adair also addresses how we as adults are focused on technology, often to the detriment of our children. She cites interviews with kids of all ages who feel ignored, alienated, and unimportant because they can’t attract the attention of the adults they love and respect.Later this year, we’ll host a parent discussion group about the book.
[[ Coming in 2015-16: ]] Sycamore Book Discussion Group: We recommend you read this book, whether or not you plan to attend a discussion group. (buy the book)
The Big Disconnect is based on research, and not only does Steiner-Adair relate the hazards posed by unwise use of technology at every developmental stage, but she also offers suggestions to meaningfully connect with children of every age.
We should be very wise about use of technology with very young children. Steiner-Adair’s research-based opinion about technology and infants and toddlers is very clear: NO screens between birth and age 2. If you look around you—in restaurants, in museums, in strollers—it’s not hard to find a toddler with a smartphone. Steiner-Adair cites a 2010 international survey of 2200 mothers, which found that more children ages 2-5 can play with a smartphone application than tie their shoelaces. Families and parental attention and connection are what actually shape a child’s brain—not screens. She even cautions about too much “educational” technology at a very young age. She discusses how technology robs children of time for creative, self-generated play; how it erodes attention span; how it is limiting physical activity and 3-D exploration. Social and emotional literacy are focal points of child development from birth to age 5, and children need real interaction with real humans to develop those competencies.
In the elementary years, ages 6-10, Steiner-Adair cautions about protecting childhood and protecting our kids from growing up too fast. Through this period, healthy cognitive, emotional, moral, and social growth continues to need a base of curiosity, hands-on experiences, relationships, and imagination. Pressure to “grow up” faster skips important developmental steps. Again, judicious use of technology can be advantageous; however, it is up to adults to provide the wisdom. The gender code is starting younger all the time, and children are exposed to the popular culture of violence and sex through all sorts of media; we adults have to manage this exposure. Research and experience have shown us that children become desensitized to brutality, misogyny, and pornography through repeated exposure. Kids don’t necessarily know when to “pull the plug;” that’s our job.
Between the ages of 11 and 13, the “tweens,” we adults need to be especially vigilant. Steiner-Adair believes, and I concur, that kids of this age should not have computers in their bedrooms. Just “hanging out” with friends can lead to serious, sometimes threatening, trouble. It is literally possible to become addicted to screens and use that as a coping mechanism. Children of this age still can’t always distinguish fantasy from reality, and their sense of “normal” can be changed. Steiner-Adair has a good message that parents should be giving their kids, and I want to quote it here:
“This is not your computer—I know it has your name on it, but this is my computer (or your school’s computer). I’m your parent and I reserve the right to see everything that’s going on there. You need to be on the computer in an open place. I have the right to know what your homework assignment is. You can’t be in your room with the door closed. You can’t take it to bed with you. You can’t collapse a screen when I walk by. We have a code of conduct and we expect you to stick with it: don’t be mean, don’t lie, don’t embarrass other people, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, don’t go places you’re not allowed to go. Don’t post pictures that Grandma wouldn’t love. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of.” This could be a good message for all parents to memorize!
For teens, the stakes just keep getting higher. Steiner-Adair quotes an 18 year-old, who says, “My generation is so comfortable at communicating electronically, but we are terrible at actual relationships.” Tech offers false privacy, temptations, and the ability to fake identities. Issues of sex, intimacy, and porn become more serious and dangerous. Parents sometimes are clueless, and sometimes they become involved in crazy ways. Parents must think and be approachable, calm, informed, and realistic.
Steiner-Adair says the family is an ecosystem, and we have everything we need to create thriving ecosystems.
Martin Seligman, psychologist, identifies the following 5 elements that are highly significant contributors to well-being: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.
A sustainable family:
• recognizes the presence of technology
• encourages play and plays together
• nourishes meaningful connection and thoughtful conversation
• understands the uniqueness of each person
• has built-in mechanisms for healthy disagreement
• has values, wisdom, and language that links past to future
• provides experiences off-line in which children can experience and cultivate an inner life
The Big Disconnect provides a wealth of research, anecdotes, and wisdom that will provoke much thought as we adults try to navigate the confusing waters of technology and how best to use it for the good of our children. We have already had some lively discussions here at Sycamore regarding ideas set forth in Steiner-Adair’s book.
By Patrick Juday / Chief Financial Officer / Sycamore School
Over the past two and a half years I’ve had the privilege of working with many Sycamore constituents through the planning of the major construction project recently announced. Many meetings with board members, parents, faculty and staff, students, neighbors, vendors and community leaders, with ideas and opinions shared and developed, helped create a vision that has culminated in actual construction over the next 12 months. To give you an idea of the planning involved so far:
- The first Campus Master Plan focus meetings occurred on February 20 and 21, 2013, with approximately 50 people spanning 13 separate groups of constituents. These meetings provided the basis for identifying the capital needs of the school and an estimate of the total costs for the project.
- More user group meetings occurred last spring as Ratio Architects began developing plans under a design-bid-build engagement. As the meetings were more focused than previous ones, the vision began to take a more tangible form with renderings of the impacted areas of the facility.
- When the results of the design-bid-build engagement did not yield the budgetary results desired, the board endeavored to seek a general contractor to economize the entire project. Under a competitive bid process, the school selected The Hagerman Group in tandem with Ratio Architects to lead the construction planning process.
- Over the spring and summer, user groups and the Buildings and Grounds committee met many times to finalize construction plans and ensure the budget goals were met. Teachers remained involved even during their summer break. Within a very condensed time, and with the utmost in prudence and oversight by the board, the construction project met the budget and was approved by the board.
I’ve been so very impressed with the positive input and collegial environment expressed by everyone involved, and knowing that this project will impact the Sycamore School experience forever has been energizing for me. The process I’ve witnessed is a textbook example of how a major construction project for a program-driven organization should be planned and executed, by originating with program personnel and other constituents and then supported by the board.
As everyone at the school makes adjustments for the impending construction, you will see me in the reflective vest directing traffic during carpool pickup times. I enjoy the waves I get from many of you and I thank you for your patience during this time as we all work to maintain the utmost in a safe environment at Sycamore School. Come January, the carpool routine should be back to normal, and more importantly, we will be enjoying the new facilities at Sycamore School!
By Larry Fletcher / Director of Technology / Sycamore School
Today’s generation of students is growing up in a digital world. Using digital devices is a huge part of their everyday experience out of school. Through Google they have access to a wide wealth of digital information, content and resources.
With all the experience this generation of students has with technology outside the school, it makes sense to have it in the classroom. This challenges the teaching profession to change their views and methods of teaching. Learning styles are changing and teachers need to adapt their teaching styles. This generation of “digital natives” offers a new challenge to teachers.
There have been improvements in education as a result of technology:
● Independent learning
● Parental engagement
● Student and staff attendance and punctuality
● Extending the students’ learning time
With the change in learning styles, the role of the teacher is changing too; as well as being a presenter of lesson material, they also assume the role of facilitator/coach in an increasingly collaborative learning environment.
The classroom has gone from a traditional whiteboard to an interactive projector through which multiple people can interact. Another popular interaction is to project your Macbook or iPad through the projector via an Apple TV.
For more personalized learning, laptops, netbooks and tablets are increasing in the classroom. Globally 2% of students have a mobile computing device supplied by the school, forecast to increase to 7% by 2016.
Different teachers and schools will certainly want to use technology at different paces; in some schools the teachers will be working directly with the interactive projector all day whereas others will turn it on to highlight a key message and then turn it off. The same will happen with 1:1 computer learning.
Individual 1:1 teaching equipment is not new. In its most basic format many schools use small, simple hand-held whiteboards for students to write on, allowing each to write an answer or create a picture which can be held up for the teacher or class to see.
The first individual student communication technology was the voting system, allowing each student to answer questions which could then be automatically collated and attributed to them.
Teachers would often start the lesson with a couple of short questions to assess understanding of the previous lesson and to see if they needed to go back and recap – much more precise than just a show of hands. However, mobile PCs (laptops, netbooks, tablets) truly unleash the full potential of 1:1 learning, allowing a fully personalized learning experience for each student.
The concept of the “Flipped Classroom” is a method of teaching which is turning the traditional classroom on its head. In a flipped classroom content is delivered outside the classroom, often online. Students do not need a teacher there when they are just viewing a lecture which can be done at home, perhaps by watching a video created by the teacher, or when they are completing an assignment. Then, back in the classroom, students are ready to discuss or do activities involving the content they learned.
Technology in education is always evolving. The next latest software or hardware devices are constantly changing along with methods of teaching with technology. This is an exciting time to be in education.
Larry Fletcher is the Director of Technology at Sycamore School, and his team includes John George and B.J. Drewes. They face the daily task of making sure the entire school stays connected, with the highest possible download rate and no hiccups. They also have an uncanny ability to know how to fix things we think we may have broken.
By Glenna Lykens / Head of Lower School / Sycamore School
William Butler Yeats is credited with a well-known quote: “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” This quote has always bothered me, and I decided to do some research.
The first thing I discovered is that William Yeats did not write this line, but has been credited with it since the 1980’s. The closest connection to the quote probably originated from thoughts by Plutarch. Those interested can follow the trail of the saying at Quote Investigator.
I understand the point of the saying: Don’t just pour content into a student, but ignite their desire to learn and elicit the understanding they already possess. But I believe the reality is that an effective teacher needs to fill the pail AND light the fire.
It is important for a teacher to find out what students already know, but also what misinformation students are using as a foundation for their ideas and beliefs. Teachers spend a lot of time before and during learning assessing to check for students’ knowledge and understanding. If a student’s pail is too empty of either of those, meaningful learning cannot take place. As a student’s pail of knowledge becomes more filled, he or she becomes eager for the pail to grow even bigger. Knowledge often spurs a thirst for more knowledge. And there must be a certain level of knowledge for students to comprehend important ideas and larger concepts. This knowledge and understanding is the kindling needed for teachers to be able to light the fire. You can’t light a fire in an empty bucket.
So why is lighting the fire important?
Teachers need to find a way for students to take the content, information, and ideas they learn and engage with them in meaningful ways. They do this through discussion, exploration, experimentation, and discovery. More importantly, they need to use them as a springboard and apply them to new settings, ideas, and challenges. For teachers to light the fire they need to find ways to excite, engage, and motivate students.
As we began this school year, Lower School teachers had a conversation about filling the pail and lighting the fire. Neither is easy to do; teachers work hard to find ways to reach all students to give them the content and the engagement and excitement. We discussed ways to do both. We said that to fill the pail teachers must first build relationships with students and recognize their individual needs. Students need to learn strategies and processes, such as skills for critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. They need to be taught the concrete skills and building blocks necessary for the larger ideas and concepts. Teachers need to balance teacher-centered and student-centered opportunities and give students the skills for independent learning. Students need to learn how to be tolerant and accepting as they discuss, debate, and probe in order to grow in their knowledge and understanding.
Teachers then take that kindling and light the fire for students. Lower School teachers discussed ways to do that. We talked about using humor and enthusiasm. We talked about sharing our own passions for ideas and concepts. Teachers find ways to engage students in real world examples and problems to solve. They provide opportunities for students to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. Successes are celebrated. Student choice is integrated into what they learn, how they learn, and how they show what they’ve learned. Students learn how to make connections and then extensions. The best teachers show students that teachers are also students and students are also teachers. Students that are in an environment like that get engaged, get motivated, and get excited. They become life-long learners, and how amazing is that?!
So are teachers done after they fill the pail and light the fire? Of course not! Teaching and learning are never done. You need to fill the pail AND light the fire AND…
Glenna Lykens is Sycamore School’s Head of Lower School, overseeing grades 1-4. A classroom teacher at Sycamore before taking her current position, she has taught and focused on differentiated education for more than 20 years.
By Susan Karpicke / Director of Admissions and School Counselor
Parents are known to be among the best identifiers of gifted children. If you think you have a gifted child, you may very well be right. Listed below are some typical characteristics of gifted kids
Early language development: Gifted children typically have well-developed language skills at an early age. The words they use (expressive language) may be advanced or they may understand (receptive language) complex instructions even before they can speak. Late talkers may begin talking in full sentences.
Great memory: Smart kids usually have very good memories. They remember instructions the first time they hear them and frequently don’t need repetition. Note to parents: They also remember what you promised them so don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep.
Curiosity: These kids are often called “little sponges.” They are very curious about most things and insatiably curious about their areas of passion. Be ready to use all available resources to help them find answers to their many questions.
Rapid learning: Bright kids learn quickly and are eager to “move on.” This is part of the reason why they need a different kind of education to keep them engaged in their learning.
Sense of humor: Gifted kids can often see humor in a situation, even at a very young age.
Intensity: These children can be passionate about their areas of interest. They often exhaust a topic before moving on to the next topic.
Long attention span: Parents of gifted children often mention that their children can attend to something they are interested in for an unusually long amount of time for their age group.
Sensitivity: Bright children are usually sensitive and can “read” people and situations well. Parents need to be very cautious about the visual and written content they are exposed to, especially on TV or the Internet. Gifted kids can also be very physically sensitive. They often dislike scratchy fabrics, tags in their shirts, seams on their socks, and loud noises.
Observational skills: Bright kids are observers. They like to know what to expect from a new situation or event before they participate. Be ready for questions like “Where are we going?” “Who will be there?” “What will we be doing?” “What kind of food will they serve?”
Preference for older playmates: If given a choice, gifted children tend to be drawn toward the older children in a group. Older kids are more likely than age peers to share interests and to think and talk like they do.
Perfectionism: Since they are naturally able to do many things well, most gifted kids grow up expecting a lot from themselves. They like to do things correctly the first time and can get frustrated when that doesn’t happen.
Strong sense of morality and justice: Gifted children like things to be fair and just. They are compassionate and especially dislike it when others are being hurtful to their friends.
If many of these characteristics describe your child, he or she may be gifted. Visit www.sycamoreschool.org to learn about the kind school environment in which gifted kids can truly thrive.
Dr. Susan Karpicke had two of her children attend Sycamore School, and has been the Director of Admissions here for more than 25 years. She also is a counselor, and combining the two skills has proven to be an invaluable addition to the admissions process for parents.
By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School
Identifying gifted characteristics in your preschool or kindergarten child is only the beginning of your journey toward developing your child’s unique abilities. Some parents will look for a program that involves formal instruction in reading, writing and mathematics. There is the feeling that formal instruction involving memorization, drill, flash cards, and practice work sheets is necessary in order to develop a child’s highly superior academic potential. It is important to understand, however, that gifted children are still children and not miniature adults. They have mighty brains in very young bodies. As a result, developmentally appropriate practice is just as important for them as for other young children.
Developmentally appropriate practice involves meeting children where they are developmentally. This requires that teachers assess their students physically, emotionally, socially and academically. After this assessment and the teacher’s observations, challenging but achievable goals will be set for each child. Clearly, when a student possesses high intellectual potential, the goals will need to be appropriate for their ability level. For this reason, differentiated instruction is a characteristic of gifted education. Gifted children develop in an asynchronous manner. A child may be extremely capable in one area but develop less quickly in another. Differentiated instruction is a tool that allows teachers to plan various levels of difficulty in content, instructional process, and the products that the child will complete in order to indicate understanding.
An appropriate early childhood classroom environment should support differentiated instruction by providing a variety of resources for children to explore:
– Hands on activities
– Time to solve real problems
– Challenging goals are characteristics of a gifted program.
– Interest areas should change or provide new activities on a regular basis.
– Teacher directed instruction occurs in large or small groups.
Young children learn best by participating in hands-on activities that are structured by the teacher to help students gain greater skill and knowledge in all areas. All children need to be active in order to process what they are learning. These are two important reasons why play is such a necessary part of early childhood curriculum.
It is also the reason that gifted children learn better when they are in a classroom with intellectual peers. Research has shown that play helps children develop skills in language, creativity, taking turns, and emotional self- regulation. Children will integrate new information that they have learned into their play. High ability children who play together will plan more complicated games and use higher level language skills than would be noticeable in other groups. As a result, they enjoy a higher intellectual level of play.
As I hope you can see, educating gifted young children is more than drills, worksheets, and formal instruction. Basic skills are important but they need to be taught in a way that integrates them into developmentally appropriate practice for young children.
The early years are a gift for you and your child to enjoy.
Francine Clayton is the Head of Early Childhood at Sycamore School in Indianapolis. She taught PreK at Sycamore for 13 years before becoming head of childhood in 2010. She’s the mom of two girls and grandmother of two. Originally from Nebraska, she did her graduate work in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan before moving to Indiana to teach.